Can a Progressive Democrat Win in Trump Country PA?
Field Report: Bernie Sanders joins Jess King, running on a progressive platform for the Congressional District 11-PA
URUJ SHEIKH: In the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections, one district in the swing state of Pennsylvania is an important battleground for progressive Democrats.
JESS KING: It’s really exciting. It’s awesome to be here in my hometown running for office. This is my neighborhood in this city, so really fantastic to have so many people coming out and talking about what’s at stake in this political moment, and ways that they can get involved.
URUJ SHEIKH: Jess King, Democratic congressional nominee for Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled 11th District got a big endorsement on the campaign trail this past weekend from Senator Bernie Sanders, when the two led a rally in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
BERNIE SANDERS: And in this case this is Jess’ first time running for office on a progressive agenda. And you just heard her progressive agenda. All of you know, who have ever studied American history, that real change, and God knows we need real change right now, real change has never taken place from the top on down. It’s always from the bottom on up.
JESS KING: I know that when 47 percent of our children live below the poverty line that my kids are not well. I know when the economic struggles in suburban and rural school districts all across this community grow that we are not well. We’re all in this together, folks.
URUJ SHEIKH: The race first received national attention when establishment-backed corporate Democrat Christina Hartman dropped out of the race after the redistricting. Janet Diaz, the first Latina serving on the Lancaster City Council, explains.
JANET DIAZ: Basically, Christina Hartman was the one that was running. She would have been her opponent. But it seemed like Christina felt that she wasn’t going to win, so she decided to move to Harrisburg in order to get their votes, because she thought that that’s basically how she would get it. So then Jess King, being that she was in this area, she decided to pursue it.
And it was kind of very, you know, very controversial, because if Christina was here and she was getting all the support from Lancaster City, why move to Harrisburg? Why not go against Jess King and see if she could win? But I’m actually happy she did leave. So I’m going to go continue forging on for Jess King, and making sure that she wins this election.
URUJ SHEIKH: Over 2000 Pennsylvanians joined Sen. Sanders and Jess King to rally under the banner “An America for All of Us.”
JULIANNA WELDON: One of the biggest issues for me and for our community is the immigration issue. I really want to hit on that. Lancaster is, has a huge immigrant community. We have quite a number of immigrants from Syria here, and Trump just wants to make everybody go away. And that’s not what our country is about. We were founded by immigrants.
JESS KING: We’ll support Puerto Rico and resolving the debt crisis, rebuilding after Hurricane Maria. And probably most importantly, ensuring fair representation in our federal government. And I can’t, I can’t remember, I can’t think of a better example of this than the fact that Lancaster County resettles 20 times the number of refugees than anywhere else in this country. It’s beautiful. I think we are all here because we know that our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters make us better, and that we know that we can and we should build a longer table, and not a higher wall.
URUJ SHEIKH: After redistricting in February 2018, Pennsylvania’s District 11 now includes more Republicans than before, and the district lines encompass all of Lancaster County and parts of York county.
DANA HAMP GULICK: That’s one of my things. I want to make sure that the, the way we vote in this state is one vote, one person. Right now the Supreme Court ruled, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, ruled that the way our state is, our state lines are drawn for districts, that it is unconstitutional. Which is how we got redistricting with Jess. But they’re also looking at it for House districts. And we have a state legislature run by the Republicans, who have threatened all kinds of ways to prevent that from happening, including impeaching justices sitting on the bench, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
URUJ SHEIKH: The currently Republican-held seat represents a mix of rural, suburban, and urban areas, setting up a challenge for Democrats to win in places that typically haven’t favored their House candidates.
How do you think that Jess King’s message, or even Bernie’s message, could resonate with people that voted for Trump last election?
SUZANNE HARRIS: Well, I actually used to be a Republican, and I was a turned Democrat. And I feel like, just like I’ve realize that so much stuff has been happening, and I think now is the most important time to vote and do stuff, because we’re realizing how much politics affects our lives.
RYAN TRAINER: I think people are already finding that while Trump talked about standing up for working people that that hasn’t happened at all. You know, this is just the same old GOP rhetoric and the same old GOP effects. And so I think people are going to be really excited when they see that Jess King is a person who’s going to actually fight for working people.
JEFF COOPER: I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’m hoping that people are going to wake up and see what’s going on, and I’m really afraid we’re going to get to the midterms and it’s not going to be what we think it’s going to be. I know a lot of the polls said that Trump was going to lose, and everybody expected Hillary to win. And I think we’re kind of in the same mode where people are thinking what’s going to happen, but maybe that’s not really what’s going to happen. So I’m hoping that we’re going to turn over the House, the Senate, and hopefully in 2020 the presidency, but I’m not totally confident that that’s what’s going to happen.
URUJ SHEIKH: King says her platform prioritizes issues most important to working families; issues that corporate Democrats avoid addressing.
JESS KING: I think you’re going to be glad to hear a little bit about our campaign not taking a dime from corporate PACs, or oil and gas executives.
We have an opportunity to propose policies that actually can work, that have worked in the past, that could support people getting more money in their pockets, addressing health care, addressing education, addressing workforce and jobs so that people have the access to the jobs that can sustain their families and provide a good future.
URUJ SHEIKH: Local progressive leaders from Lancaster City Council, State Assembly, and State Senate also came out to support King.
DANA HAMP GULICK: Lancaster County is right now very inequitable in how we are represented. The state of Pennsylvania is terribly inequitable in how we are represented in Harrisburg. Our state is 52 percent women. We have less than 20 percent female representation in the General Assembly. So we are not being represented there. That’s one thing that I want to work on. I want to get some women, and particularly some women of color, if we can bring them on board. Start to change the demographics in Harrisburg.
JANET DIAZ: The fact that she’s interested in helping and continue pursuing people to get Medicare for all. We have a lot of elderly people that don’t have the ability to go out and get better health care, some of them, or whether they eat, or whether they take their medications, so they have to choose. And Jess King basically is pushing forward so that we can help those citizens.
URUJ SHEIKH: And how is that going to win over Trump supporters? Or conservative voters?
ISMAEL SMITH WADE-EL: So that’s an excellent question. So here’s my fundamental belief on all this, is that there are thousands, even millions of people in the country who have actually never had genuine, authentic progressive values articulated to them in their terms on their doorstep. So when I think about Lancaster County, when we talk about college for all, you know, my question is when was the last time you went to somebody from a farming family and said, look, your family has fled Pennsylvania for generations. Why should you worry about going broke if you get sick, or going broke trying to give your child a better life? And that’s a value, that’s a progressive value that anybody can get on board with, whether they live in the city or they live in the country, whether they live in an apartment or whether they live on a farm. Because ultimately, people just want to know that you have their best interests at heart.
URUJ SHEIKH: Many Sanders supporters say that a progressive platform like King’s, a platform that rejects austerity and privatization, and offers an alternative vision for working families, can mobilize the working class and prove to be a winning strategy at the voting booths.
Will this progressive platform prove successful? So far in District 11 it has been, but we’ll see if the momentum will be there during this year’s midterm elections.
BERNIE SANDERS: If Jess wins here, we’re going to win all over America. So for the sake of our kids and our grandchildren, let’s get to work. Let’s elect Jess King as the next congressperson from the 11th District.
URUJ SHEIKH: Reporting for The Real News Network with Cameron Granadino, I’m Uruj Sheikh.